How to Become a Licensed Professional Counselor

The path toward becoming a licensed professional counselor can lead to a fulfilling career. Explore degree and fieldwork options for LPCs.
portrait of Meg Whitenton
Meg Whitenton
Read Full Bio


Megan Whitenton has over a decade of experience as an art educator. She has worked in web marketing and public relations for major arts organizations and produces web content for fields including higher education, healthcare, and the arts. Meg earned...
Updated on April 12, 2024
Edited by
portrait of Lorraine Mumby
Lorraine Mumby
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Lorraine Mumby is an editor for BestColleges who focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She is passionate about equipping students with the tools to succeed and have meaningful, equitable educational experiences. Lorraine has a bachelor's degre...
Reviewed by
portrait of Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC, BC-TMH
Read Full Bio


Rayelle Davis is a nationally board-certified counselor, a licensed clinical professional counselor, and a board-certified telemental health provider. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses and is currently a doctoral candidate at Du...
Learn more about our editorial process is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

  • LPCs need a master's degree, supervised work hours, and a passing score on the NCE
  • Each state upholds its own requirements for LPC licensure
  • The best LPCs are compassionate and discreet, with excellent communication skills
  • LPCs may earn additional certification in a counseling specialization

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) use talk therapy and behavioral modification techniques to treat clients for issues affecting their mental and emotional health. LPCs often focus on a specialization like addiction, trauma, or behavioral disorders or work with specific groups such as families, children, or couples.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a faster-than-average job growth of 18% for licensed professional counselors from 2022-2032.

Popular Online Master's in Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What is a Licensed Professional Counselor?

LPCs offer support and guidance for clients aspiring to achieve mental clarity and live a fulfilling and healthy life. They often specialize in an area of expertise but can serve in various capacities, depending on their qualifications, work setting, and state of practice.

Role and Responsibilities

You can serve clients struggling with a specific mental health issue or who seek guidance to improve their overall mental health. You may serve a particular group, depending on their specialization, such as recovering substance users, couples, children, or people with disabilities. You may also employ techniques like behavior modification or humanistic counseling in an individual or group setting.


You can treat clients in a variety of professional environments. An LPC's specialization often dictates where they work, like a school counselor or substance use counselor. The most common workplaces for licensed professional counselors include:

  • Outpatient centers
  • Healthcare clinics
  • Community centers
  • Hospitals
  • Independent practices
  • Residential health facilities, including inpatient addiction rehabilitation centers


You will need approximately six years of formal education and training to become a licensed professional counselor. This includes a four-year bachelor's degree and a two-year master's degree, followed by supervised fieldwork and a passing score on the national exam. Each state maintains its own field supervision and licensing exam requirements.

5 Steps to Become a Licenced Professional Counselor

While you can choose from a variety of intriguing specializations and mental health services, you must first follow these steps to become licensed in your state.

1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Earning a bachelor's degree in a major related to counseling is necessary to eventually earn a master's degree and start your career. Since most colleges do not offer undergraduate majors in counseling, you can major in a subject like sociology, psychology, social work, or child development. Bachelor's programs may offer optional internships or practicums for field experience. Some may offer a concentration in addiction and substance use counseling.

2. Earn a Master's Degree in Counseling

A master's degree from a university accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is required in all states. Typical master's degrees in counseling include a rigorous practicum or field component combined with a traditional graduate-level curriculum. As a master's degree candidate, you can tailor your elective courses and fieldwork to your counseling specialization.

3. Complete Your Supervised Fieldwork

You can begin your supervised field experience once you graduate with a master's degree in counseling. While the minimum f requirement varies by state, you will need between 2,000 and 3,000 field hours under the supervision of a licensed practitioner to become eligible to sit for the national licensing exam. Some state licensing boards allow fieldwork you completed as part of a master's degree to count toward the minimum work requirement.

4. Pass the National Board for Certified Counselors Exam (NBCC)

The NBCC administers the flagship National Counselors Exam (NCE) for broad counselor certification in many states and the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) for specialty certifications. The NCE is offered twice annually, in April and October, while the NCMHCE is offered throughout the year.

Candidates can take the NCE alone, for a fee of $275, or alongside the NCMHCE specialty certification exam, which costs $100-$195.

5. Apply for a License

You will apply for LPC certification after you meet all the education and fieldwork requirements and pass the national licensing exam.

Each state upholds its own application requirements; for example, many states have phased out mail-in applications and now require LPCs to apply and renew online. State licensing boards may charge $50-$300 for initial license applications.

States also have different renewal requirements, which typically include meeting minimum continuing education hours over a set period and renewal fees.

What Skills Do I Need To Become a Licensed Professional Counselor?

Beyond completing a formal education program, you must develop certain skills to excel in your counseling practice. Qualities like compassion and discretion are required. Other relevant skills include:

  • Strong morals and a sense of duty to uphold personal and professional ethics
  • Communication, especially active listening, and advanced observation
  • Patience and the ability to remain calm, even in turbulent situations
  • Flexibility and adaptability to tailor therapy to individual clients' needs
  • Organization and dedication to documenting patient progress and researching the latest counseling trends and techniques

What is a Licensed Professional Counselor Salary?

Licensed professional counselor salaries vary based on location, setting, education, and specialty.

The BLS reported a median annual salary of more than $50,000 for substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in 2023, while marriage and family therapists earned more than $58,000 that same year. These LPCs earned the highest salaries in hospital or state government settings.

According to the BLS, counselors in Virginia, the District of Columbia, and New Jersey earned the highest wages in 2023, with average annual earnings of $95,000, $89,000, and $84,000, respectively. States with less competitive education or licensure requirements may pay lower salaries to LPCs, while higher-paying states may require advanced qualifications.

Frequently Asked Questions About Licensed Professional Counselors

What's the difference between a licensed professional counselor and a psychologist?

Chevron Down

LPCs and psychologists operate similarly in a clinical setting. However, psychologists need a doctorate and can perform tests and diagnostics beyond an LPC's qualifications, which requires a master's.

Can licensed professional counselors practice independently?

Chevron Down

Each state has separate requirements for licensed professional counselors to operate independently or diagnose and treat patients without supervision.

Most states require you to obtain a master's degree and meet a minimum of supervised service hours before taking the licensing exam to practice independently.

What is the best degree to become a licensed professional counselor?

Chevron Down

The best degree to become a licensed professional counselor is a master's in counseling. However, some states let you earn a license with a closely related degree and coursework in counseling. See your state's regulations on how to become a licensed professional counselor.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed March 19, 2024. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.